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Small SUVs the big attraction at Geneva car show

The New Jeep Renegade is among the small

The New Jeep Renegade is among the small sport utility vehicles getting attention Tuesday, March 4, 2014, during the Geneva International Motor Show in Switzerland. Credit: EPA / Martial Trezzini

GENEVA -- Carmakers are banking on the fast-growing demand for small sport utility vehicles to earn new U.S. customers and help turn around their businesses in Europe's still-fragile market.

At the Geneva International Motor Show Tuesday, U.S. carmaker Chrysler's Jeep brand launched the Renegade, and France's Citroen introduced the funky Cactus.

And they are just the start of a long list of carmakers looking to "come to the party," said IHS analyst Tim Urquhart.

The market for small SUVs is growing just about everywhere across the globe. It's among the fastest-growing U.S. market segments, while in Europe small SUVs have proved themselves more recession-resistant than most.

The Renegade is considered key to Jeep's goal of reaching 1 million in sales this year, going after small SUVs in the United States such as the Kia Soul and Nissan Juke.

To get better mileage the Renegade will have 16 engine and transmission configurations for different markets around the world, including the first nine-speed automatic transmission in a small SUV. Transmissions with more gears generally help engines run more efficiently, especially at highway speeds.

The 2015 Renegade will be available in the United States in late December or early January.

The Citroen C4 Cactus developed from a concept car and retains that funky anything-goes heritage. The car has a bold shape with rubberized panels on the side doors -- handily scratchproof for when European parking gets tight.

Citroen has rethought the interior, moving away from the drive column to push buttons for drive, reverse and neutral. The French carmaker, part of PSA Peugeot Citroen, also has raised the digital speedometer and odometer to sit on the dashboard instead of embedded in it, and put a tabletlike interactive screen at nearly eye level for entertainment, in-car telephone as well as temperature control. The glove box opens trunklike from the top, a simple solution to prevent contents from spilling out when opened on the go.

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